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home : opinion : news views April 29, 2016

6/21/2013 11:31:00 PM
War Just Seems Like A Bad Idea
Gary Gerard
Times-Union General Manager

I have become fairly anti-war over the years.
Even back when George W. Bush decided to go all cowboy and invade Iraq, I wrote a saying there was no way we should invade Iraq unless we had the whole world – and a United Nations resolution – on our side.
At the time, the U.N. was on board with disarming Saddam, but not running him out of power or poofing him out of existence.
Of course, after W made the decision to go ahead and invade, I got behind the troops and the war effort. But I never really thought a pre-emptive war was a good idea.
And, as it turns out, it wasn’t that good of an idea.
Iraq is not in that great of shape today. Some would argue Iraqi citizens are worse off than they were under Saddam.
That’s because of the fractious nature of the current Iraqi government. The government, the police and the military can’t keep things in order. There are too many Islamist militant-types running around blowing stuff up. It’s chaotic, like some sort of twisted anarchy.
Of course, Saddam was an evil dictator. But when he was running things you could go to the store and buy milk and eggs without fear of some guy with a suicide vest blowing himself up in the vegetable aisle.
It’s much the same as what happened to a lot of countries last year during was called the “Arab Spring.” It was a wave of revolutionary demonstrations, protests, riots and civil wars.
Al Jazeera wrapped things up pretty nicely in an article online a while back.
Rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. There were civil uprisings in Bahrain and Syria, and the Syrian uprisings have morphed into what could easily be considered a civil war.
Major protests have broken out in Algeria, Kuwait, Iraq, Morocco, Jordan and the Sudan.
Less robust protests occurred in places like Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Western Sahara and Djibouti.
Nearly 130,000 people have died.
From the U.S. perspective, all of this was supposed to spawn freedom and democracy across the region.
That was the hope, but the reality is vastly different.
In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was deposed, convicted of killing protesters and sentenced to life in prison. Mohamed Morsi, a leading guy in the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected president.
In Libya, Moamar Gadhafi was killed. A General National Congress was elected. Former GNC member Ali Zeidan was designated as prime minister.
But these guys seem to want to turn these places into theocracies. They want none of that secular governing going on. Basically, this means these countries will likely be ruled by Islam – and not the moderate kind of Islam.
There is not a lot of freedom and democratic philosophy going on in places like that. Instead of turning toward a U.S. or western style of governing, they’re turning more toward an Iranian style of governing.
You know, where they stone people for being gay or remove limbs for stealing.
So instead of things getting better – like we told everybody it would in Iraq and Afghanistan – lots of times when there is a revolution or a transfer of power in these countries, things actually get worse.
This is something that I don’t understand about U.S. foreign policy. We always seem to think that if there is a revolution, things will get better. That if we help the “good guys” democracy will flourish.
Problem is, it rarely works out that way, especially in the Middle East.
Comes now Syria.
We’re arming the rebels now, but by all accounts, we really can’t be too sure who these rebels are. We may even wind up arming some al-Qaida and Taliban types.
We want to defeat the evil Assad regime and save the country from a civil war. We want to foster democracy and political order in Syria.
I think that is a virtual impossibility.
Fareed Zakaria is a CNN  journalist. Here are excerpts from a recent column he wrote that pretty much sums up the way I feel about intervention in Syria.
When asked the U.S. objective in Syria, some proponents of intervention say it is to end that country’s humanitarian nightmare. But in the short term, arming one side will increase the violence and bloodshed. That’s fine if it serves our real objective, which is the ouster of the Assad regime, a nasty and evil dictatorship. But that is a negative objective. The lesson of Iraq is that defeating Saddam Hussein — whose regime was perhaps even worse than Bashar al-Assad’s — was only a stepping stone to an outcome.
Our goal for Syria is a democratic country where all sects can live in peace. Achieving that would require a lot more than the defeat of Assad; it would require an occupation of sorts to ensure the creation of a suitable political system. We attempted just that in Iraq and, despite a massive, decade-long effort that cost trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, Iraq today cannot be described as either genuinely democratic or multiethnic.  
Zakaria also mentions the 1980s writings of Samuel Huntington, who wondered why the world’s dominant power could win two world wars, deter the Soviet Union and maintain global peace, yet could be so bad at smaller military interventions.
Huntington concluded that we rarely entered conflicts actually trying to win. Instead, U.S. military intervention has usually been sparked by a crisis, which put pressure on Washington to do something. But Americans rarely saw the problem as one that justified getting fully committed. So, we would join the fight in incremental ways and hope that this would change the outcome. It rarely does.
In Syria, we have lofty ends but no one wants to use the means necessary to achieve them. So we are now giving arms to the opposition and hoping this will bring the regime to the negotiating table or force it to strike a deal.
Problem is, the Assad regime doesn’t want to negotiate. It wants to win.
I hope I am wrong, but I am afraid that this arming of the rebels is just a first step and we eventually up the ante.
Seems to me the U.S. needs to stick to humanitarian aid and stay out of the arms business.

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